Every so often, in the early 1970s when I was still in short trousers, I would be packed off to my grandparents for a few days. Probably to give my Mum and Dad some respite from me or so that Dad could have one of his wild parties.
I used to love it there. They lived in a huge farmhouse on the edge of the Peak District. Grandad ran a taxi firm and gave music lessons. As for Grandma, she made Quaker Oat biscuits, elderflower wine and improbably large roast dinners ("Will eight roast potatoes be enough? Here, have six more!"). I even had a double bed to myself, which was unheard of in those days.
What I liked most of all, however, was that you always got to 'go to the shops'. Not the mad dash to the wholesaler that Dad would indulge in once a month but a walk around Holmfirth, where Last of the Summer Wine was just beginning to be filmed. We would walk for miles. We bought stationery and toys from Charlesworth's and sweets from the Co-op. If I was really lucky I got to keep the 2p deposit that you'd get back if you returned your empty bottle of Ben Shaw's Dandelion and Burdock. But only after we'd used the contents to wash down a small cod and chips from Hollowgate Fisheries, where my uncle David was the proprietor. We met people. We talked. It was part of being a community.
Nowadays, I hardly go shopping at all, except online. During lockdown my wife and have resorted to going on 'dates' to the local Tesco (everywhere else is shut) where we have been known to hold hands in the stationery aisle only to get funny looks from the self-appointed social distancing police. My Amazon account tells me, to my shame, that I've ordered 48 items in the last six months. But I haven't seen anyone in the process. I still get my stationery, my gadgets (toys for grown-ups) and my sweets (well, it's a bottle of wine these days) but I do so with minimal contact with any other human beings. Even the delivery guy rings the doorbell then steps back to a social distance. I usually wave at him through my office window, but there's no point saying anything. He can't hear me.
"Why is he sharing all this?", you wonder.
Well, before the pandemic hit, school was like shopping with Grandma. It took time; you met people. If the school canteen got its act together you even got fish and chips once a week. But now it's like that mad dash to the wholesaler with Dad. All the 'work' gets bundled into your virtual 'trolley' first thing on a Monday morning - that's your Inbox, by the way. You don't speak to anyone except on Zoom (and my Internet connection is dodgy, anyway). You just grab your 48 tins of Heinz beans, your ten kilos of pasta and five boxes of Rice Krispies and and leg it to the exit.
Whizz. Beep. Swipe. Kerching. Done.
I want to go back to school ... when its safe. I miss my GCSE classes, in particular, many of whom have worked so hard during the past few months. I miss my colleagues, which is a strange thing to say when you consider we tend to pass along the corridors like ships in the night. There's something life-affirming about the chaos that is school that I just don't get from sitting in my office at home, although my runner beans and parsnips are definitely benefiting from the extra attention. And my minnows, which I've named Helium, Neon, Argon, Krypton, Xenon and Radon, love the company. They just don't say much.